Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Farewell for the moment

We finished packing and I rowed Worm to the slip and we put her safely in the yard.

The taxi turned up on time and the Lithuanian driver was excellent.

We looked wistfully at Robinetta as we left. I'll be back in a month. Alison hopes to come earlier and move her nearer Malin Head.

The ferry was flawlessly efficient and we caught the sail/drive bus to Ayr Railway Station and then the Stagecoach bus direct to Largs Yacht Haven where we had left the car.

For some reason Ayr keeps its train and bus stations as far apart as it can but the weather was fine and the walk also. 

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Giving up

This morning the weather forecast had changed for the worse. Yesterday, the forecast for Thursday and Friday had looked good. Now a new low was due to form by Thursday night. It seemed to form from nothing centered on Glasgow bringing more gale force winds to the North Channel.

It was just too much. The chances of moving the boat were vanishing. We looked at ways to get home. A taxi to Belfast and then ferry and train to Largs looked viable. Alastair and Christine on Snowbird felt the same - they wanted to get home to Arran.

We spent the rest of the morning booking tickets and taxis. The local Downpatrick taxis were not answering and some of the Belfast ones tried to make things complicated. Luckily we found a lady at ValueCabs who just made everything easy for us.

Snowbird has an immense array of electronic gadgets but the AIS transmitter is configured with the previous name of the boat. I looked on the web and discovered you have to plug a laptop in via USB to change the settings. We looked but couldn't find it without pulling out the Multi-function displays. Something for them to do another time.

We invited Alisdair and Christine to dinner and went shopping. Alison found some pork loin in the butcher and thought to do our favourite Japanese pork and ginger dish but we couldn't find root ginger or Chinese leaves so she picked another recipe. We added the same potato bake we had done in Westray using the Omnia.

I found dulse - the local edible seaweed and decided to make it into a starter. Gently steamed in a little water and butter and tossed with crispy streaky bacon lardons and shallots it made a lovely salty dish.

Alisdair and Christine brought wine, apple pie and cream. All-in-all a fine meal.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Stormbound, catching up with the chores

We are probably going to stay in Ardglass until at least Thursday because of the weather. Since we have shore power here I went out and bought a little electric heater, and we are now cosy in the cabin, although it is very cold and windy outside even though the sun is shining. There are plenty of things to do inside though. So far we have put the tap on the hand basin so it does not leak, taken the toilet apart so the water inlet through hull leaks less. Shifted the ballast to clean up beneath it and check there is no water coming in.... Tomorrow I will wash down the paint work so it is white again.

One of our friends commented that we had done really well to get Robinetta ready to sail only one day after launching, but we are doing things now that would normally be done before leaving port.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Ardglass again

The forecast had not changed in the morning, but the marina felt much calmer at 8am, and the sun was shinning. We decided we should give travelling north a go, not Belfast or Bangor because there was too much west in the wind , but back to Portpatrick from where we could go to Girvan, then the Mull of Kintyre, then Rathlin. This would use the steady north westerlies forecast for next week and let us get to Derry. Failing that we could turn south, and head toward Dublin, probably via Carlingford Lough.

We were ready to go by half eight, but then realised we should put the 15 litres of diesel we had in cans into the proper fuel tank. We did that, then headed out, with the no 2 jib,, staysail, and main with two turns round the boom. There was no north in the wind at all as we left harbour, it was a pure westerly.

At first things went well, but we knew the area around Ardglass was sheltered and sure enough the swell got up as we neared Strangford Lough and the wind came round to the north west. We lowered the stay-sail and fully reefed the main, and rigged the pulleys for the tiller, and carried on for ten minutes, but at 3.5 knots trying to reach Portpatrick would be a marathon. We had no reefs left for the main if the wind got up more, and Robinetta was really heavy on the tiller in the gusts. We were sailing best course to windward, and if the swell got up any more we would be bashing into the waves. We turned South towards Dublin.

For half an hour this felt grand. We were further out on the coast as we retraced our route towards Ardglass, and the gusty wind did not overpower me with the help of the pulleys. The only problem was that out here the swell was larger than inshore, and as we neared St John's point it began to build more. Julian and I looked at each other. Robinetta is a lovely boat, but she is little, and old. Her crew were not exactly race fit after a winter ashore either. Part of being a sensible sailor is knowing when to stop.

We headed back to Ardglass, and moored up on the pontoon we had left three hours before. It looks like we will be here for a while.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Leaving Portaferry

After a morning of doing boat chores and chatting to Gary Lyons from the Northern Ireland OGA Julian and I walked into the town for fish and chips. Our earliest time to leave was 2pm, and we were back on board Robinetta by then, and ready to cast off at 1425. I had been watching wind over the tide in the middle of the channel all morning, and could still see some, but when we were clear of the marina and turned downstream close to the Portaferry shore the tide did not hold us back at all. A quick turn back towards the marina put us head to wind, and we raised the main and staysail before running down the side of the channel at nearly 4 knots. There was no tide against us or under us and we had a lovely gentle run down to the cardinal at the entrance to Strangford Lough. Our timing was perfect! (we had been given a lot of advice!)

We cut inside the cardinal (just) since we were on the top of the tide, and hardened up to head north. Julian set the no 2 jib, but I soon felt overpowered on the helm and Robinetta was heeling an uncomfortable amount so we put a reef in. The forecast had been 4-5, occasionally 6 N to NW, but it felt more like a top end 5. There was more swell than the expected “smooth to slight” too, and our foredeck got a good wash. We lowered the stay-sail, then reefed all the way down.

We had been told it was best to go inside the South Rock, which proudly boasts the oldest wave washed tower in the world still standing, but our best course to windward put us well outside, and when we tacked to head back towards the shore things became rather unpleasant. Rather that burying our bowsprit the waves were coming at us on the beam and rolling us too far over for comfort. We were also only making 1 knot under sail, and turning the engine on made things more uncomfortable without speeding us up noticeably. We quickly turned back onto the other tack and had a think. We were making 3 knots at best, and at some point we would have to tack towards the land. There was just too much west in the wind to make reaching Bangor marina possible in any sensible time frame, and the sea was very unfriendly.

Peel would have been possible, but we would have been at a bad angle to the waves again, and although we could see the Isle of Man it was several hours away. There was only one easy place to go, and that was downwind, back towards Strangford. We could not get in there due to the tide, but Ardglass made a perfect port of refuge.

We  turned away from South Rock, and headed south instead. Life immediately felt easier. The seas were still big, (for Robinetta), but they lifted her stern and rolled under her. We were making a comfortable 4 knots, and although steering still took effort it was easy to control. As we headed south the waves got smaller, although the wind was still gusting to 6, and we crossed the Strangford Entrance without encountering any confused seas. We were ferry gliding rather than going where Robinetta's bows pointed for half an hour as the tide pushed us away from the land, which was not a problem as we had the chartplotter to tell us where we were actually going.

Julian rigged the pulley system to help me hold the course, and we sailed right up to Ardglass, only putting the engine on when we turned into the harbour entrance and were head to wind. The sails came down in a rush, and we headed cautiously in. It did not look much like the picture in the pilot book, or the chart, and there was a cardinal that was not on either. We crept in, keeping close to the cardinal, then followed the channel round to the marina. There were more boats in here than at Portaferry, but there were still plenty of empty berths. Not knowing which were visitor berths I did not head for the closest, but picked a berth where we would be blown off.

A gentleman in a motor yacht came and took out lines, and tried to pull us in. Robinetta would not budge, and it took a couple of minutes to spot that Worm had got stuck behind a finger of the pontoon and was acting as a mooring; we had forgotten to shorten the towing line as we came in. Once Worm was free Robinetta moved easily into her berth. The gentleman who had helped us moor up had tried the same trip as us, and described his boat as “flying” off the waves. Not something a motor boat should do, and like us he had turned south and taken refuge in Ardglass.

The weather forecast for tomorrow is the same as today, meaning there is no point us trying to head north again. Then on Monday the weather gets worse, with real gales, not just a force 6 “yachtsmans”. We will probably continue to head south, to Howth, (or Carlingford if Howth feels too far) and sit out the gale there. We will have to see what tomorrow morning's forecast brings before we finalise our decision.

Friday, 22 April 2016

Strangford Lough

Another beautiful day. We got up late and showered and had a cooked breakfast on board.

Google said there was a plumbing supplies shop in town so we went looking for things to fix the pipe to the new tap.

The first thing we saw was the fishmonger's van. We decided to have scallops for lunch so added accompaniments to the shopping list. 

The weather was so nice we could not resist a walk round the corner to see the Lough 'proper'. Beautiful!

Then we went to the tourist office and had a nice chat and picked up some leaflets.

A wander around the town told us the plumbers merchants was no more. We bought some bread and shallots to go with the scallops and decided that if we got back to the boat before the tide turned we would go for a sail.

We caught the last of the flood through the end of the narrows into the Lough and got the sails up. There was a fantastic breeze and we romped up the Lough at 4 1/2 knots. 

Strangford Lough is 12 miles long and 2 miles wide with 11 sailing clubs around its shores. The shores are low and pretty and don't impede the wind. It is the perfect sailing ground.

There are underwater obstructions to look out for - reminders of the Lough's glacial origin.
After a little the wind dropped and we could tell the tide has turned too. We pottered along enjoying the view. We had the Lough almost to ourselves. One motor boat came out and anchored to fish. Another yacht was sailing and a third motored down from the north.

Around 3pm I went below to cook the scallops with shallots and a slice of bacon. I served them on fresh wheaten soda bread with a glass of Verdiccio. We ate in the cockpit. Lovely.

Then we turned onto a run back to Portaferry. There was almost no wind and only a weak tide. A lovely lazy drift in the sun.

We got the sails down before the narrows and readied fenders and warps. We didn't want any distractions once we were committed to stopping.

With the engine in gear and at idle we pointed at the narrows. As we got to the ferry landing we were doing 8.3 knots. I pointed in and the speed dropped to 7. As the marina got closer I pointed at the middle and we ferry glided towards it. Down to 4.5 knots now, good. Robinetta was steering nicely - that big rudder comes in handy sometimes.

We snuck-in past the outer pontoon and curved round towards the visitors trot, speed dropping all the time and slid nicely in, feeling rather pleased with ourselves.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Over the Irish Sea

After an early morning walk round Portpatrick in bright warm sunshine we ate breakfast sitting in Robinetta's cockpit and were ready to head out of harbour by 0920. The faint breeze did not tempt us to raise even the stay-sail at first, so we were under engine as I set the course for the entrance to Strangford Lough.

By 1100 the breeze was about F2, so we raised sail with the no 1 jib. We had to keep the engine on, or our speed dropped below 3 knots even with tide assist, but at least we felt like a sailing boat. The 1110 Belfast weather forecast was a new one, issued, unusually, at 1000 UTC. It contained a strong wind warning (occasional 6) for the area just South of us, and NE 4-5 for us. There was no sign of it as we motor sailed south in a light breeze.

We lowered the main sail and furled the jib at 1145 since they were doing nothing except getting a sun tan, but put them both back up at 1310 and sailed (with the engine off) at 3½ knots. Trying to get the twist out of the throat halyard meant we lost a little throat tension and the gaff saddle began to twist on the mast. We had to lower and re-raise the main sail to get rid of the problem, and the throat halyard still had a twist in it! We MUST get some good rope on the throat halyard!

We were on a very broad reach and rigged the preventer. We also had the auto helm in use as the visibility was not good enough for a human helmsman to keep on course easily. The blue sky was mostly covered by cloud at 3, and without direct sun light the air felt much colder. The wind also dropped, until we were doing less than 3 knots under sail, and we put the engine back on at 1520. We got the main down half an hour later, but kept the stay-sail and jib. The wind did get up again later, but the main stayed down; the swell increased and we tied the boom to a back stay to stop it moving as Robinetta rolled. The tiller pilot could not cope and I took the helm.

Julian phoned the marina at Portaferry; it is only small and I was worried that the marina office would be shut before we got there. The contact number is a mobile, which is just as well since the harbour master had it with him. It turns out that the marina is not open for the season yet! However they promised to have someone there to meet us at our ETA, and that the facilities would be open.

Julian and I had been having an ongoing discussion all day. His Navionics charts told him that the flood up Strangford Lough started at 6 pm (based on tidal heights) while the pilot book and Reeds told me that the flood began at 8pm. We reached the entrance just before 6, and tried to go in under engine, staysail, and jib. The pilot book warned of confused seas at the entrance during the ebb and they were right. Robinetta could not make progress against the tide, and Worm was being pushed all over the place. After quarter of an hour we gave up and turned away towards the safe water mark. As soon as we tacked round we were away from the confusion in moments at over 6 knots.

We turned the engine off, furled away the jib, and hung around just off the entrance until 1915, when we tried again. This time, although we were down to 2 knots as we passed the Pladdy cardinal, there was nothing unusual about the sea state and we managed to get into the narrows.

By the time we reached the marina we were doing 6 knots, and had to steer at 90° to our course to make the marina entrance. As soon as we were past the buoy the tidal stream lost its grip, and we could steer normally again.
There were no boats in the marina at all, but Padraig was there to show us where to go, and Robinetta was safely moored up, with Worm hauled up onto the pontoon, by 2045. A much more tiring day than yesterday, but we were rewarded with a spectacular sunset for our troubles.

I will take this as a lesson to trust the pilot, and Reeds, over the Navionics charts for tidal streams in Ireland!

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Largs to Portpatrick

Woke up with a hangover at the six o'clock alarm. My own fault for not drinking water before bed after an evening in the yacht club bar. We are not planning to be in places with electric hook ups, so the first job was to take the electric heater and kettle to the car. This is going to stay in the marina car park, which made it easy.

Frost turned Robinetta's sail cover white and stiff, while an icy glaze made the decks slippery; a price worth paying for cloudless and bright blue skies. The still air made backing out of the berth simple and we set off south at seven, aiming for Portpatrick.

I helmed while Julian got Robinetta shipshape. The staysail went up, and Julian bent on the no 1 jib, but we did not fly it since there was no wind. After an hour the autohelm made its first appearance; course 200°T for the next 49 miles.
By 9 my hangover had disappeared and Julian made us a cooked breakfast after which I made tea and washed up. Half an hour later we suddenly began to pump. Julian went below and traced the leak to the new tap. I had accidentally left the water pump on and water had been trickling out at the joint. We lost over 5 gallons of fresh water into the bilges. Julian wondered if the pipe had split, so disconnected it from the tap, but it turns out that was just the end leaking. We left it sealed up, and the basin tap is out of commission again until we can do some plumbing.

By 2 pm we were closing on Ailsa Craig half way along our route. The wind was blowing at force 0 but we had expected that; otherwise it was a perfect day to be on the sea, warma nd sunny with calm seas. Julian was in a polo shirt and talking aout shorts, almost unheard of in our Scottish expedition!

Lines of gannets were out, skimming close to the sparkling sea and seals were hauled out sunbathing by the light house landing spot. We got a spectacular view of the columnar basalt cliffs with the old fog horn below; a strange sight like an old fashioned ear trumpet magnified a hundred times.

Gannets were not the only birds around. Small flocks of guillemots sat on the oily calm water, and a few gulls flew overhead, including at least one Black Back Gull. I saw porpoises in the distance too, and a couple of seals swam close to have a look at us.

As we approached Loch Ryan a ferry came out heading for Belfast, then two crossed our bows heading in to Stranraer. The first passed well ahead, but we had to think hard about the second, and slowed down slightly, but need not have worried in the event. The tide had been noticeably in our favour since we neared Ailsa Craig, but as we headed down the Mull of Galloway it really picked up. We had left the Clyde doing 4.5 knots, but were doing 6.8 here, without changing the engine revs.

We did have a concern about the engine. Even after the fresh water leak was sorted the float switch kept activating the pump. Just little trickles, but were hoping for none. We traced the source of this leak to the raw water cooling system. Not the water going in to the engine, but after it came out and headed for the exhaust. Not a dangerour problem, but one that needs to be fixed.

The lovely fast passage in the final 10 miles meant we reached Port Patrick Harbour at 1945. There are no pontoons, and the guide says to raft up against the harbour walls. They have a good system, with lines straight down the wall moored at the bottom, with big fenders on them to keep boats away from the rough wall. We were the only visitors in there, and quickly tied Robinetta on to the down lines, with the ladder nicely positioned by the cabin roof. After rafting Worm up along side we headed off to find dinner.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Ready to sail

Today was a beautiful day with more wind than we expect tomorrow. But we still had lots to do. Worm needed collecting by car from Fairlie and a few screws adding where the epoxy had failed. None of the electrics were done. Only the staysail was bent on. We had no water, diesel or beer on board. My first job was the electrics. I got the running lights working. I must find a connector I like for them. It takes me an hour every year to re-crimp them on and seal them. This year I had also re-run the wiring down below. Still it all worked. Just the anchor light to check once it is dark enough to see.

Then on to the electronics. I had rewired the chart plotter, depth gauge, radio and tiller pilot while in the shed in February but none of my NMEA links worked. I had left it, hoping the problem was lack of outside signals in the metal shed.

I ran the VHF antenna and soldered the plug on. Radio check. Loud and clear from Belfast Coastguard.

I turned on the chart plotter. The depth came up immediately.

I went back down below. GPS position from the chart plotter was visible on the radio.

Everything I did in February is working! Hurrah!

We met Alex and Marilyn West of the Westerly Owners Association. We met them in Lossiemouth in 2014 and briefly again yesterday. Today we had lunch with them in the Bosun's Cabin. Lovely. 

They are busy helping organise the WOA 50th birthday. There will be an event in the Solent and one on the Isle of Man. 

Then we got Worm and did some shopping (beer sorted) and did the repairs to Worm.

While I was doing the electrics Alison sorted the water, including replacing the tap in the wash-basin. The she bent the mainsail on and we raised it and found a few twisted ropes and sorted them. 

We looked at the tides and the south going one started at noon or midnight.

The Reeds tidal stream atlas said we could get up to 3.4 knots against us. I fired up the Navionics charts on the tablet. They showed nothing worse than 0.4 knots tomorrow.

An early start beckons. 

I started bending the no. 1 jib on and discovered we had stowed them folded. Just as well we were sorting it now. We go both jibs furled and ready to go and left the no. 1 bent on. The bowsprit is run (they gave us a large berth with plenty of room to back out).

Alison has made new staysail and foredeck hatch covers to match the mainsail. They look very fine.

We are in the Largs Sailing Club with beer and wifi.

The evening is beautiful and the club has been out racing.

Hang Spring Cleaning! Tomorrow we sail!

Monday, 18 April 2016

Back in the Water

After a long drive up to Scotland we arrived at Fairlie Quay Marina at 5 on Sunday. The yard had moved Robinetta in the shed and made a clear run for her to the double doors to let her out tomorrow. After getting the anchor and chain aboard Julian got on with measuring Robinetta for her new handicap rating while I put the things we had left on the cabin top away, and began to wipe down the cabin paint.

Monday morning saw us back at the yard with Julian working on the mast. He had made a new dead eye from cherry wood over the winter, so he needed to fit it and replace the whipping to hold it in place. I kept cleaning, and a loaded a few bits and pieces on board that we would need for the afternoon's trip to Largs.

The yard came and moved Robinetta and Worm outside at 12. It was bitterly cold, with a strong northerly wind, making me appreciate the time in the shed even more!

The mast had not been in the shed, and now it was clear of the others I could see that the varnish really should have had some attention, There was no time to do anything about it though.

The mast went in, and Julian and I spent an hour putting the rigging back together. In theory the yard should have done it, but although they know what they are doing it was really much easier for us since we knew where everything should go. In the process Julian discovered another of the dead-eyes had badly damaged. (I suspect that this was the one I had noticed before and reported needing replacing, since the one Julian took off was not really too bad). No problem, since we had brought back the damaged dead eye, so just substituted it for the really badly damaged one!

All this took time, and Robinetta was due to be lifted in at 1400, but by 1405 we were ready, and the yard came and put her into the slings and took her to the launching bay. We stepped aboard as she was lowered in, and Julian went forward to take a bow line on each side to help keep her straight when the slings were lowered. Meanwhile I had a sudden thought, and went below to check that the through hulls were really closed. Good thing I did, because the water inlet for the toilet was open. That's one that can put a lot of water into the boat though the toilet bowl... I closed it and went back on deck.

As soon as we were low enough that the water inlet for the engine raw water cooling was under water I turned the engine on. It started first time, but I had a nervous couple of minutes waiting for the engine cooling water to appear in the exhaust... The slings dropped still more, and Robinetta was afloat, held in place by the bow lines while the crane moved back and cleared the slings from beneath her. Then the crane man gave the nod, Julian caste off the bow lines, and I put the engine into gear and steered forward. We left Worm ashore at Fairlie, since it was a bit rough to launch her to tow with Robinetta.

We had no depth gauge, and no chartplotter hooked up, so I took no risks with the course, heading out along the line of the dock where deep draft boats come along side, then aiming for the safe water mark at the entrance to Largs Marina where we were going to spend the night and finish our fitting out. Unfortunately this put us into some quite rough water at the end of the dock. We were heading into both wind and tide, so quite slow, but by 1500 we were tied up safely in Largs Marina.

We walked back to Fairlie and picked up the car, then moved more of the gear aboard before spending our first night on Robinetta since last September.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Summer plans - Widdershins around Ireland

The outline of our Summer cruise, weather permitting, is now firmed up so I thought I'd get it down in public.

Robinetta is due to be launched at Fairlie on the 18th of April. We then have two weeks aboard. We hope to get around Malin Head to Lough Swilly. We will probably sail down the Scottish coast to Portpatrick and then hop over to Belfast and along the northern Irish coast.

Then it's back to work until the 20th of May when we have three weeks to get to Fenit in Tralee Bay. I'm really looking forward to this but somewhat daunted by the prospect of the Atlantic swell.

After another work break we restart on the 10th of July, although Alison is thinking of staying out there and inviting friends to crew and explore the Shannon Estuary in June. It's all right for some ...

In July we have just two weeks to get around the Dingle and Kerry peninsulas. We were thinking of ending up in Crosshaven, but it looks like we would find ourselves in the middle of Cork Week so we may stop before then.

Our final leg, from the 20th of August, assuming thinks work out, will take us back up the Irish Sea to Holyhead, just in time for the Traditional Boat Festival.

Of course, if the weather intervenes, we might not get round at all. Wherever we end up, I'm sure it will be wonderful.